Taking their places was no problem, they were almost the first in the room. The prosecutor was at his table, he probably had never left the room. The guards definitely had not left. The few other people, either clerks or just interested watchers, filed in quickly. The wait for the return of the Board once everyone was there was not long, only a couple of minutes, but it seemed like hours to Elder. Granted that Lieutenant Patton was sure that the Board would find no reason to hold Elder responsible for the mutiny, Elder still worried about what this would mean to his career. He was starting to like the idea of staying in the Navy as a career officer.
The three Board members filed in and took their places, standing behind their chairs. Each had a solemn look on their face, which scared Elder a bit. Each avoided looking at him, which increased his worrying. None sat; Lieutenant Captain Goldwater and Commander Wallace took a deliberate step back so that they were behind Captain Quinn. Captain Quinn set his notepad on the table in front of him and took up the gavel. Three short raps and he announced the resumption of the hearing.
“Graduated Cadet Elder, please rise to hear the findings of this Board.” Lieutenant Patton stood with Elder. The Captain was still staring straight ahead, looking at the hatch to the corridor outside the hearing room.
“This Board finds that Graduated Cadet Jesip Dwight Roger Allen Elder acted according to the regulations and traditions of the Imperial Navy. This Board finds neither blame nor fault in his actions. This hearing is dismissed.”
It was several seconds before the Captain’s statements sank in. Lieutenant Patton was telling him, “See, I told you so” in his ear and slapping him on the back. Then Elder muttered, “I’m cleared” and sat down.
“Yes Graduated Cadet, you are cleared. I said that this would happen. You have to have more confidence in your lawyer. We always know what is going on.”
Elder nodded his head – it was over. He would be released back to duty. However, with the Operations Center wrecked, where would he work? On the other hand, was the Operations Center wrecked as bad as he thought? The whole fight took only a minute or so, and a lot of that was taken up with hunting him or other survivors. In addition, the time it took to shoot at the two dozen people working there meant little damage could be done. It was no wonder that there were other survivors, there had not been enough time to do the job right without a large amount of powerful explosives. He remembered explosions, but more like hand grenades than anything larger. Explosives on-board a ship in space were strictly regulated due to the danger of holing the hull. Not that a Class-G Dreadnought was in much danger of that, but the training was universal. He had to look at the Operations Center and see what the damage really was.
:Lieutenant, can I return to work now?”
“No Graduated Cadet, the Operations Center is undergoing repairs. Moreover, by the time the Captain will allow anyone other than Damage Control back in, you will be on base while the ship undergoes preparation for the next voyage. It’ll be a good twenty to twenty five Imperial Weeks before everything is ready.”
Working on base? Seeing Constance every day? That was right, the normal procedure was half a year in space and half a year on base duty. Except this space tour was a bit shorter than half a year, Elder computed the time and realized it was maybe one week short. He had never seen the operational orders and those had been changed once Midshipman Mitchell became King Mitchell. That detour and the time spent for the coronation ceremonies must have thrown the schedule into the waste.
Finding and checking in with Lieutenant O’Roark took the rest of the day. Elder should not have been surprised, given what Lieutenant Paton had said about the certainty of the outcome, but he was mildly so when Lieutenant O’Roark took his acquittal as perfectly normal. The Lieutenant gave Elder the first available transfer down to the base. Most of the Operations staff was leaving early, unless they had something to do with the repair of the Center there was no reason for them to stay any longer than needed to get them down.
There was no way to tell Constance about when he would return. The circuits were full of military business, no personal business was allowed. Elder expected that she had been alerted about his return through normal channels, there was no reason to not inform her. No one could hide the fact that the BALKANS had returned. The only uncertainty would be when each person would arrive at the base from the ship.
As it was, Elder was not surprised when he saw Constance waiting for him in the terminal. It was not until after the joyous reunion with Constance had run its first burst that Elder noticed that there were dozens of similar reunions happening all around them. Several base Marines were trying to clear the terminal so that the next batch of crew could land and reunite with loved ones.
From the terminal to their house on base was twenty minutes. Elder had only seen it once before, right before reporting to the BALKANS. The landscaping was grown more, the one tree in front had some sort of fruit growing throughout the branches and the grass was lush. There was a shiny nameplate on the door now – Graduated Cadet and Mrs. Elder.
Once inside, Elder was pleased at the décor. Constance had great taste in beautiful things – he suppressed the thought “except for me” – and the living room was beautiful. She showed him around, showing off her handiwork. Elder could not find a single thing he thought should be changed. It was a home fit for the nobility, at least a Count and maybe an Earl, Elder felt overwhelmed.
“The Navy was very good at loaning me the furniture and decorations I needed. All this is standard office grade material. Even you father could not get stuff tis good. Moreover, speaking of your father, Jessie, he was here five weeks ago. He was sorry he missed you but understood that the Navy comes first. We went sightseeing and visiting various nice places. Your father was even able to convince a couple of places to import Krasgian mushrooms as a luxury item. He is expanding into exports as well as imports. The first shipment should be arriving in a few weeks. Naturally, he brought some for us, since you love them so much. Almost as much as I do. I saved some for you, they are in cold storage and I’ll cook some for lunch tomorrow.”
Elder leaned back on the couch where the two of them were snuggled and sighed. “Connie, the mushrooms are a blessing. However, the biggest blessing is you. Ever since we left dock, I have missed you. This could be a hovel and I wouldn’t care as long as I’m with you.”
It was just then that there was a knock at the door and the bell began ringing repeatedly. Someone was determined to get their attention. Elder felt deprived, it had been so long, and now his time with Constance was being taken from him.
When the pair of them opened the door there was a crying woman barely standing on the stoop. Constance recognized the lithe oriental woman.
“Jocasta! What’s wrong?”
“Nayati is dead! Just an hour ago! I was just told!”
Elder saw three officers hurrying along the walkway towards his house. From the outburst, he guessed who they were. A civilian followed close behind. Elder saw that he had guessed right when they were close enough to see the Greek Cross on the chest of the lead officer, a Lieutenant.
Meanwhile Constance was holding Jocasta, keeping her from collapsing by the door. Elder was not needed there, “Father, I think it would be best to continue here if you can. My wife seems to be needed as support. Shall we go inside?”
Constance eliminated the need for discussion as she helped Jocasta into the house. Elder motioned for the others to enter and followed them into the living room.
Once everyone was seated, Elder looked at the insignia on the three officers. The Lieutenant was a Chaplain, the Sous-Lieutenant was in Logistics and the Ensign was in Communications. Elder had no clue as to who the civilian was but he had a wary idea, ISA agents seemed to dog him.
Since Constance was busy with Jocasta, whoever she was, Elder took up the role of host. “May I offer refreshments? I realize that this is official business, but refreshments should help.”
“Thank you Graduated Cadet. I am sure that we all could use something to aid our nerves. Mrs. Pangalos is taking the death of her husband rather hard, unfortunately a common reaction.”
Elder went and got various liquid refreshments, ignoring after a few seconds thought any food. All someone needed was a mouthful of food at the wrong time. When he returned to the living room, Jocasta Pangalos was much calmer. Constance was a blessing in many ways. Elder set the large tray on the coffee table and motioned to the others to help themselves. Since there was a variety of drinks of various sorts, each person took something. Elder poured iced tea for Constance before fixing his coffee.
The chaplain spoke, “Graduated Cadet Elder, Mrs. Elder, I am sorry that we intrude on your first evening together but Nayati Pernel Eugen Natan Slavic Pangalos was murdered by terrorists about an hour ago and we need to explain the situation to Mrs. Pangalos and get any help we can from her concerning the investigation into her husband’s death.” Focusing on Jocasta Pangalos, he continued. “Mrs. Pangalos, the Imperial Navy has a large support structure in place to help you through these bad days ahead. Naturally, you are not going to be thrown out on the street. The Imperial Navy will do what it can to help you through these times, either here or back on your home duchy, whichever you wish. Sous-Lieutenant Cambias is here to help you with all of what needs to be done over the next few weeks as you deal with the Imperial Navy. Ensign Palmer is in the Special Communications Branch and can help you with communicating with you family back on your home duchy.” That broke the dam.
Throwing herself at the chaplain, Mrs. Pangalos began a huge emotional torrent that threatened to soak the uniform of the chaplain. He held her gently and motioned for everyone else to leave. Everyone took the hint, even though Constance paused for a second with her hands fluttering at her friend trying perhaps to find somewhere to hold onto and give her support in addition to that [provided by the chaplain. Elder led the group into the dinning room.
Once Elder closed the door to the living room, Ensign Palmer said, “All right Graduated Cadet, since I am sure you are full of questions about the Special Communications Branch, I’ll brief you. I am a telepath.” In the seconds that followed, Ensign Palmer glared at Elder’s face. “No, I can’t read your mind. Moreover, that comment is based upon the worried look on your face, not reading your mind. My ability to talk with someone else’s mind depends upon how close we are genetically or personally. My parents, my siblings, my children and a few cousins are somewhat easy. My wife and a few close friends are a slight bit harder. Outside of that the ability to talk mind-to-mind falls off rapidly. Urgency and importance of what I’m saying also count but genetic and personal contact matter most.”
Elder blushed, “Actually, I hadn’t paid attention to you, I was more worried about my wife and her friend. I didn’t even think about you being in communications except that it was nice for the Navy to help contact her family back home.”
Ensign Palmer laughed a short sharp laugh. “Sorry, I get questioned about Special Communications a lot and I have developed that standard spiel I run just to get it over with. Sous-Lieutenant Cambias knows about me so I knew he wouldn’t raise any questions.”
“Especially after you stopped playing poker with us and showed us why Ensign.”
“We’d been together too often and too long. I was beginning to read you. It was better to quit then, before you decided to blanket me for cheating.
“So Ensign, can you communicate with her family by this telepathy?”
“Her family, no I can’t Graduated Cadet. However, I have a classmate from the Academy stationed there and I can ‘talk’ with her. She can relay the messages. Who knows, this might be the faster-than-light communications the Empire is so desperate for.”
Sous-Lieutenant Cambias snorted. “Of course, if this does happen, think of all the bureaucracy that will spread throughout the Empire. Someone on Terra wants to know if Form 9947B-3219K has been filled in concerning Project D99-375 and bothers you about it even before you get the notice that the form needs to be filled in. With communications the way they are now, bureaucracy cannot smother everything yet. The time to communicate between the worlds is too great.”
“And as a bureaucrat, Sous-Lieutenant, you want to find out about whatever that form was just as fast as any other bureaucrat, don’t try and fool us.”
“OF course Ensign, that’s how a bureaucrat gets promoted. I can be honest about it. Moreover, once Mrs. Pangalos is ready, I will start doing my bureaucratic best to get her what she needs. That’s how you get promoted in the Navy, as least that’s how bureaucrats in my line of work get promoted.”
The chaplain surprised everyone except the quiet civilian when he suddenly spoke. He had slipped into the dining room without being noticed, except by the civilian perhaps. “I slipped a sedative into Mrs. Pangalos’ drink. When she wakes up tomorrow, she should be fine. Team Chief Hase, you should come back tomorrow after she has had a chance to settle down a bit. You will get nothing from her tonight. Graduated Cadet Elder, while your wife puts Mrs. Pangalos to bed in you spare room, shall we finish this discussion where the refreshments are?”
“Certainly Lieutenant, uh, Lieutenant?”
“Oh, that’s right; I forgot to introduce myself. I am Lieutenant Hadar Peir Derri Rolf Marden.”
Elder led the small group back into the living room. Noticing that the ISA Team Chief was not with them, he excused himself with the excuse of checking on Mrs. Pangalos and did a quick tour of the house. The Team Chief was not to be found. Mrs. Pangalos was sound asleep in the spare bedroom; Constance was just leaving her.
“Jessie, is anyone watching her boys?”
“I don’t know Connie, I didn’t know she had any. We can ask, everyone but the civilian is back in the living room.”
“Oh, yeah, wo is that civilian Jessie?”
“Imperial Services Agency. I guess that something about this murder interests them. We were in the dining room while you and the chaplain dealt with Mrs. Pangalos and once you brought her here, the chaplain came for us and the ISA agent disappeared. I just checked, he isn’t in the house anywhere.”
“Oh dear, Jocasta must be in real trouble. ISA only deals with treason and such.”
“Not necessarily, her husband could just have been the victim of a treason plot. I don’t think the Navy would be so helpful if there was any hit that she was involved in treason.”
By this time, they were back in the living room. The three officers were chatting about some bit of official business, it did not sound like it was connected with Mrs. Pangalos. The conversation stopped when the chaplain saw the two enter the living room.
“Ah, you’re back. Is Mrs. Pangalos sleeping all right?”
Constance answered in her clear voice, “Yes, whatever you put in her drink put he in a deep sleep. Is someone watching her boys?”
“One of my assistant chapel administrators is regaling them with tales of Concar. They are fascinating stories, some of which might even be true. She is devoted to Concar and so all her tales are about great things, even if they never happened or the item does not exist. Did you know, along this subject, that it was someone from Concar who invented the Jump Drive? John Henry James had nothing t do with it, but she never explains how people got to Concar without it. It’s too far for a generation ship unless that ship left around WW II.” Lieutenant Marden laughed uproariously. Elder thought for a second he would wake Mrs. Pangalos, but quickly realized that whatever the chaplain had put in her drink would probably keep her asleep in spite of any noise they made, within relative reason.
Elder knew which war the reference was to, and he was sure that Constance knew it also, they both had been good at Pre-Imperial history, but he wondered if the chaplain knew exactly how far back that war was. However, Mrs. Pangalos was the issue tonight. “Excuse me sir, or rather Father, I hadn’t heard of any terrorist attacks today. When was Mrs. Pangalos’ husband killed?” Not knowing the rank of the dead man, Elder could not use the proper honorific for him.
“Oh, sorry Graduated Cadet. It will be mentioned tomorrow probably, if it is not hushed up. Ensign Pangalos was Duty Officer for his ship, one of the utility ships – a Tree Class I think – when several people tried to steal it. He fought long enough that the Marines were able to eliminate the pirates. However, ISA is investigating how these civilians got onto the base. Ensign and Mrs. Pangalos have been active in the church, even though they are Athenian Greek Orthodox while I am Historic Serbian Orthodox. Their two boys can be quite a handful during church outings.”
“Excuse me Father, I just had a thought pop into my mind.” Elder decided to get the question settled before he forgot it. “How many different Christian denominations are there? I mean, is seems everyone is of a different church.”
“Well, Graduated Cadet, the Roman Catholics haven’t split that much, unless you agree that all the Protestant denominations are splits of theirs. But then, we Orthodox would say that the Romans are a split from us. However, it does seem that humans are fond of splitting their religious beliefs into tiny fragments. Moreover, it is not Hindus are as bad, Shinto are not fragmented at all, but most Shinto are also Buddhists and the Buddhists are the most fragmented of all. Why? I have never studied the issue, no one has as far as I know, but I would guess that once the Reformation started, many people found it easier to split rather than discuss their differences with whatever organization they were with before and once the Great Mysticism happened it got worse, but that does not explain the Buddhists who were splitting long before the Reformation. My own church, the Historic Serbian Orthodox, started when the Serbs wanted an ethnic church separate from the Greek Orthodox. The Greeks at the time were suspected of using the Church to advance the political goals of the Eastern Roman Empire. We started calling ourselves the Historic Serbian Orthodox Church a while bask to show the differences between us and various splinter churches that split from us over various differences: icons, married bishops, and so forth. We aren’t even very ethnic anymore, I have no Serbian ancestors but a couple of generations ago my family started going due to the nearness of the local Serbian Orthodox church and we stayed because we like the Orthodox theology.”
“Ah, thank you Father. That’s made it clearer.”
“And you, Graduated Cadet, which church do you belong to?”
“Neo-Reformed Lutheran Father. Most people on Krasgia are members. It’s almost the state church.”
“A lot of Duchies have a dominate church. As long as the principle of religious freedom is maintained, even if only lip service, the Empire does not care Graduated Cadet. Unless there is a reason to intervene, then religious freedom is a good propaganda tool.”
The conversation continued, over various subjects for another hour. Then, being satisfied that Mrs. Pangalos wouldn’t wake until tomorrow, Lieutenant Marden took the others and left., mentioning that the ISA Team Chief had left the house long before, and headed back to the Pangalos house to meet with the assistant staying with the boys.